Copyright © 1998 Henrietta W. Hay
Pat Schroeder, Congresswoman
July 17, 1998
If you can have a mentor young enough to be your daughter, Pat Schroeder
might well be mine. My favorite U. S. Congressperson, Rep. Pat
Schroeder of Colorado, retired in 1996 after 24 years of service.
Congress will never be the same. And unlike many of her colleagues, she
was smart enough to quit while she was ahead.
Now she has written the best political book I have read in years, "24
Years of House Work...and the Place Is Still a Mess. She writes very
much as she lives and talks -- fast and funny and exactly as she sees
it. As one of the longest serving female politicians, she had a
tremendous, if controversial, impact on Congress, and she weaves
stories of political battles, family life, famous personalities and her
own personal struggles for women's rights with humor and compassion.
She started early. Her father was a pilot and at his insistence, she
got her pilot's license at 16. She wanted to study aerodynamic
engineering at the University of Michigan, but had one of those guidance
counselors who screamed, "No, you'll be wasting your parents'
money." Pat caved in, took a history major and went on to Harvard
Law and to Congress. In retrospect, I'd like to send that counselor
Pat was a pioneer in 1972 when she went to that bastion of maledom. She
was 31 years old, female, smart, idealistic, socially liberal, funny
and spoke her mind -- often . What a dreadful combination for the guys
to have to put up with. Her early experiences in Congress are enough to
make a feminist cry -- if feminists were allowed to cry. She says that,
"Most of my new colleagues considered me a mascot or a novelty, as if
Denver voters had mistakenly thought 'Pat' meant 'Patrick.'"
One of her first experiences with the bitter white male prejudices of
Congress was her treatment at the hands of the Armed Services
Committee. The Chairman, F. Edward Hébert assigned only one chair to
the two new members, on the theory that women and blacks were worth only
half one "regular" member. So for two years she and African American
Ron Dellums sat cheek to cheek at committee meetings.
Of course those were they days when there was opposition from "Ladies
against Women," and Phyllis Schlafly wannabes wore pins that said, "I'd
rather be ironing." There were 14 women in Congress when she arrived
and she reports that, "The women in Congress had to wage virtually every
She kept clear of scandal, served her constituents well, and never
wavered from her fight for issues helping women and children. The
ultra-conservatives love to talk about family values. The Schroeders
could give them lessons. Pat and Jim (still married) arrived in
Washington in 1972 with six year old Scott and two year old Jamie.
She writes, "The business of politics as usual, however protracted and
recalcitrant, was easy compared to the challenge of juggling career and
family." Early on she was asked, "'How can you be both a congresswoman
and a mother?" She replied, "I have a brain and a uterus and they both
work." She and Jim wanted their children woven into their daily lives
. The kids went to public school in Washington and traveled the world
with their parents.
everyone shares my admiration for her. "Out in Colorado," she
writes, "we like to say that you know a person by his enemies. I have
quite a list and it's a source of great pride. . . I never made Nixon's
enemies' list, but Oliver North named me one of the twenty-five most
dangerous people in America." Way to go, Pat.
Pat Schroeder set a fine example for us as she fought hard to improve
the status of women. I marched with her for the Equal Rights Amendment
one day in Denver. She never wavered on abortion rights, women in the
military, day care, family leave, research for women's health issues
including contraception research and protection against sexual
harassment. She wrote, "Go ahead and say it: I am a bleeding heart
liberal. Think about how much better society would be if each of us
felt a special calling in life, something that stirred our passions."
Wish I had said that first.
She urges us all to take up the torch she is passing on. "Consider this
a postcard from the front," she writes. "Wish you were here. Roll 'em